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Sharon Lynn asks, Does your character think like you?

Sharon Lynn is the author of Death Takes a Bath. You can find out more about her on her website, or by clicking here, see her last post here, and buy her books here.

An important question every author should consider is ‘Does your character think like you?’ It’s okay if they do, it’s okay if they don’t. What’s not okay, is if they think like you but are of a different gender. Hear me out.

Male brains are wired differently than female ones. The changes go back to when our society consisted of hunters and gatherers. Men needed strength, a sense of direction, and a single-minded focus to hunt. Women needed to multitask, create safe havens, and communicate to keep children and families alive. As such, men developed a thicker right hemisphere which controls large muscle masses, and use their hippocampus more for their sense of direction. They have fewer dendrite connections.

These characteristics make men stronger, allow them to find things unerringly, and create a single line of thought. Women can transfer information from one side of their brain to the other faster, possess more dendrite connections, have a larger limbic system that controls emotion, and store language in both sides of their brains. These traits give women the ability to do several things at once very well, to consider several options simultaneously, nest and nurture, and to communicate in multiple ways.

Sharon Lynn

A male and female might arrive at the same solution, but their brains will take different paths to get there. I sometimes answer a question that my husband is thinking of shortly before he asks it. Based on our conversation and the information around us, I know where his mind will go because he thinks in a straight line. He is astounded, every time.

When a character comes across as not true, focus on their thoughts. They may say or think things that make sense but somehow don’t sound right. One of the reasons for the discrepancy is that a male says something feminine, or a female says something masculine. For example, usually when a man complains he wants a solution. Generally, when a woman complains she wants sympathy. Many a fight can occur because the wrong response is offered when a person is upset. Watch the responses of your characters to make sure they respond true to their brains.

A word of caution: Take these ideas as suggestions and not hard and fast rules. Look for overall tendencies and remember that all tendencies do not apply to all people.

Sharon Lynn

Sharon Lynn’s mystery short stories, Final Curtain (2020) and Death on Tap (2017) are published in anthologies by Malice Domestic and Sisters in Crime’s Desert Sleuths. You can find out more about her on her website,, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Margaret Mizushima

    Love this post, Sharon! Your last point about what both genders want when they complain reminded me of a discussion my husband and I had shortly after we were married. I was complaining about something at work, and he was offering solutions–none of which were viable by the way! This made me even more irritable. Finally, I told him that when I complained about work all I wanted him to do was listen and sympathize. I would come up with a solution that would fit the problem after I had a chance to vent. LOL He remembers that discussion to this day, forty years later. It has saved us a lot of misguided emotional turmoil.

    1. Sharon Lynn
      Sharon Lynn

      I love that you two figured it out so early! My husband and I celebrated 37 years last month, and that understanding helps keep things happy!

  2. joyribar

    I’m glad you presented this post as food for thought. It’s challenging to write authentic characters and the challenge is compounded by the gender, the age, ethnicity, etc. I often run dialogue and actions past my friends who fall into categories outside my experience. My husband and I have very different communication styles, prompting many discussions and explanations until we found our sync. Sometimes, it still happens, though.

    1. Sharon Lynn
      Sharon Lynn

      Using that difference in communication styles helps a lot with creating conflict in your writing. But it’s always important to remember that in real life, we want resolution.

  3. Avatar

    Your post reminds me of Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. I’ve done a lot of study into brain research, and, while I’m sure these generalizations exist, I haven’t experienced many examples in my everyday life, any more than my being left-handed makes me more right-brained. I do have to be careful, though, when depicting male characters. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Sharon Lynn
      Sharon Lynn

      That book tends to present things in absolutes rather than as tendencies. One I remember is about hints. Women hint and men don’t get hints.
      “What’s wrong?” he asks.
      “Nothing,” she answers, knowing he will worry about her response.
      Cool, he thinks to himself and turns on football.
      I have never been a hinter – when I want something I ask straight out. But my daughter, as young as 5 years old, would hint. “I wonder if there are any good places to eat on the way home?” Instead of just asking for KFC mashed potatoes.

  4. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Thanks for the provocative post, Sharon! My male characters (two of them are children) are based on people I know or knew. That helps me “get inside” their heads as I try to realistically re-create their actions and dialogues. I find with my kid characters, however, I have some leeway since some of today’s children think and act very differently from adults, especially their parents; i.e., they have benefitted from history and changes in gender expectations. For example, many of my former male students did not hold with the notion that girls were in any way inferior or less “strong.” And many girls sought solutions and equal shots at opportunities, not sympathy or something different from what their peers received. YAY! So, that type of character growth influences how I craft them in my series. Hence, I strive to make my four detectives role models for how to interact with one another, regardless of gender. Maybe those little brains have changed, too!

    1. Sharon Lynn
      Sharon Lynn

      I love your detectives! And yes, children’s brains are still growing and mapping. They remap at 2 and 10. Girls remap again around 19 and finish growing at 22. Boys don’t remap until 22 or finish growing until about 26. Those ages tend to be tumultuous years. I love the movie Inside Out because the visual representation of the brain remapping is so evocative.

  5. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    Very good points. Age makes a huge difference, too.

    1. Sharon Lynn
      Sharon Lynn

      Yes! Age and experiences.

  6. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Having a nonbinary character would require respectful research and questions, such as: Does the individual feel a blend of these male and female customs or proven differences? Is even asking about a “blend” off-kilter? Are any of the things mentioned in this post more stereotypes and/or simply conditioning from a culture or society? I have no sure answers. I believe you bring up good questions! And as writers, we should always be aware of generations creating differences, too. Saralyn is right: Do research and ask questions. Be wary of generalizations.

    1. Sharon Lynn
      Sharon Lynn

      In my character development class I look at brains and also generations. Each generation approaches decisions differently. Millennials love to negotiate whereas the Greatest Generation no means no. Gen Z tend to be more fluid, moving between activities and identification.

  7. Avatar
    Sharon Michalove

    I just finished taking a class on male point of view. This meshed very well with what we discovered.

    1. Sharon Lynn
      Sharon Lynn

      It’s an interesting subject.

  8. Avatar
    Laurie's Story

    Thanks for an interesting post, Sharon. I’ve seen that single-line thinking in my husband many times – (cue hand slap to the forehead).

    1. Sharon Lynn
      Sharon Lynn

      Hahaha – Exactly!

  9. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Sharon — Yesterday was a travel day, so I’m late for the party. Thank you for this thought-provoking post. I equally enjoyed reading through the responses. All of it is great food for thought.

    1. Sharon Lynn
      Sharon Lynn

      Thank you, Laurie! I’m looking forward to hearing about those travels.

  10. Tracey Phillips
    Tracey Phillips

    Great advice, Sharon. Science is amazing. When I was younger, I naively imagined that men and women thought the same way. I considered us equals. Same mind different bodies. Then I got pregnant. Somehow our (mental) differences became so much clearer. I laugh about that now. Still, each individual is unique. There’s room for a wide spectrum when developing your character.

    1. Sharon Lynn
      Sharon Lynn

      Oh the hormones of pregnancy! I never read another Patricia Cornwall novel after I got pregnant. Too violent. But before that, I read them all. An experienced men never feel.

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